STRIKES, protests, petitions and demonstrations have been a staple of political life for many generations. Ahead of next month's General Election, we take a look back at a handful of causes that have had Dorset residents up in arms over the past few decades.

One of the more unusual topics that sparked fury amongst local people was the prospect of an ostrich farm taking up residence in West Stafford. In the late-1990s, campaigners positioned themselves outside the entrances of Tesco and Waitrose as well as the offices of the West Dorset District Council, urging both the public and authorities to reconsider the plans.

Local members of the vegetarian group VIVA - which now promotes a vegan lifestyle - also demonstrated to raise awareness of the growing trend among supermarkets to shop exotic meats. Neal Buckoke, spokesperson for the campaign group, was reported saying: "You can now buy ostrich, kangaroo and buffalo meat in superstores, and we want to stop the practice now. It is not natural for these animals to be farmed, and we have got to call a halt to the sale of exotic meat before it gets too big and too many animals suffer."

The protests were eventually successful and plans for the West Stafford ostrich farm were abandoned.

Although unparalleled in their scope, the aims of today's Extinction Rebellion are far from new. Friends of the Earth, an environmental campaign group that continues to work in 74 countries around the world, has certainly made its voice heard in Dorset throughout the decades.

A key protest of 1999 was against the production and sale of genetically modified food - or GMOs - a practice which involved altering the DNA of plant and animal products through genetic engineering. Photographs show members of the campaign group protesting outside Tesco in Dorchester, armed with placards reading "60% of Tesco's customers say NO!"

Acting chairman of South Dorset Friends of the Earth, Matt Pullman, was quoted saying: "It's time for Tesco to listen to public opinion and join the great majority of responsible food retailers in removing GM ingredients from their own products."

Members also gathered in Bridport's Bucky Doo Square, accompanied by a 'gene beast' which epitomised their fears of genetically modified food. Yet these protests ultimately failed: although public concerns about the practice remain, GM foods are continued to be produced and sold.

Recent decades have also seen South Dorset Friends of the Earth protesting against power stations, climate change, and even the use of cars.

Turning to more political qualms, members of the National and Local Government Officers' Association (NALGO) held a UK-wide strike in 1989. Workers were protesting against changes to their pay which would mean a rise not in line with inflation and the loss of negotiating rights. NALGO were instead calling for a 12% pay rise with no strings attached.

More than 90% of workers in England and Wales supported the strike action, which almost brought local government services to a complete standstill.

In 1993, NALGO was one of three unions which combined to become UNISON and went on to lead strike action in Dorset throughout the 1990s. In 1995, care workers gathered outside the County Hall in Dorchester, protesting against a proposed 12.5 per cent cut in their wages. Placards read: "Why target the lowest paid?" and "Who cares for the caring?"

Now the largest trade union in the UK - with almost 1.4 million members - UNISON was also established from the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the Confederation of Health Service Employees (COHSE).

Young people have similarly been voicing their concerns over the decades, taking to the streets in 1997 to protest against the £100,000 cut in the county's budget for youth clubs. Teenagers from across Dorset equipped themselves with placards, whistles and megaphones, speaking out against the 13% cut which Dorset County Council said had been necessary to fund local government reorganisation.

A 16-year-old member of Sturminster Newton Youth Club, Sarah Sandall, was reported saying: "These cuts mean our youth clubs have to close for up to three months of the year." The youngsters also led a petition demanding that the budget be restored to its former level, and distributed badges emblazoned with "don't cut our future."

Ahead of the general election in 1997, petitions circulated areas of the county on issues both big and small. In Weymouth, residents campaigned to prevent a Conservative government adding VAT to food, as part of a nationwide petition. Labour Party agent for South Dorset, Gareth Thomas, was reported saying that the Tories had gone on record announcing they would extend indirect taxation, while Labour would strongly oppose any plans to introduce VAT on food.

Currently, only certain items such as chocolate biscuits, crisps and fruit juice are subject to a 20% tax rate, while most others are tax-free.

These days, many petitions calling for political and social change are organised online and can attract widespread publicity. As of March 2019, the most popular petition - with 6.1 million signatures - called for the revocation of Article 50.

Under the Human Rights Law, everyone has the right to freedom of expression and therefore the right to protest peacefully. Peaceful protests, along with strikes and demonstrations, can be an effective campaigning tool, raising awareness of an issue and increasing visibility of a movement or organisation.

It is only if protests become violent, threatening national security or public safety, that they can be considered unlawful, and lead to police involvement and arrests.